Sunday, 29 June 2008

More Hill Climbing

Today's route profile

After not being able to ride yesterday due to the constant heavy rain (always on the weekend!), I was disappointed when I looked outside this morning and saw grey dark skies and the potential for even more rain. I was not planning to spend the day compensating for my missed ride by eating several portions of butter pecan ice cream again so I thought it might be time to go back to the health club for (shudder) an indoor workout. To avoid this, I schlepped around the house, doing householdy things, and by 10 o'clock it became obvious to me that, in fact, it was not going to rain after all. This delay meant that I missed the OBC Sunday group ride, which I had been considering, but then I decided that with my trip to the mountains of France coming up I would be better off doing climbing workouts anyway. So after washing the dishes and getting dressed, I got the Tarmac out and we headed off to the Eastern Parkway for a warm-up before crossing the river to get to the Park.

Sunday mornings in Ottawa in summer mean that the major parkways close to vehicular traffic. Although having four lanes of road to yourself is nice, in practice this never happens since all the skateboards and once-a-month-in-summer-cyclists come out, usually with their children, and take up the parkways. But the Eastern Parkway is furthest from population centres here so it gets the fewest people, meaning that it is easy to overtake and find a line to maintain a decent speed for a warm-up. It was a bit strange since I had the feeling that everyone else out on the parkway was moving in slow motion. There was a strong wind, as has been the wont this summer, but I still managed long stretches at 35 km/h (22mph) or so. At one point someone on a racing bike pulled onto the road just before I came by and I passed him he gave it some gas and sat on my wheel. This was pretty amusing since he looked kind of overextended just coming onto the road so I thought I would have some fun and just started accelerating gently away. I looked back when I hit 42 km/h (26 mph) to see if I should push a bit harder but he had already vanished.

My heart rate profile today

Leaving the Parkway I rode westwards along Sussex Drive and crossed the Alexandra Bridge, turning left and following the usual horrible Blvd. Alexander-Tache to the park entrance. There were a lot of cyclists finishing up already (it was close to 12:45) but the weather, wind aside, looked really nice. I played tag with one rider but he could not keep up to me on the climb and then turned left towards the MacKenzie King Estate so I had the road to myself. A little group passed me on a slight climb but I easily caught back up on the descent. Two younger riders soon turned off but the remaining cyclist, who looked like he had legs made of iron, was too strong for me and I let him go ahead on the climb past Camp Fortune.

There was the usual big group of people at Champlain Lookout, and I took a break for Gatorade and a snack since I was a bit tired from the wind, more than the climbing. I chatted with one rider with a Sampson bike and then he recognized me from the OBC group ride we had done that he had led earlier this year, when my rear tire went flat. Don and I had a nice talk and then headed back towards Ottawa together. He was on his second loop of the park, which is pretty impressive, and although I was considering doing it the sky to the west was very dark and we were worried that a thunderstorm was imminent.

When we left Gatineau Park, Don took me through Hull in a way that would let me avoid the potholes of my usual route. We passed the Bisson Centre, where the Foreign Service has its school and where I might go for language training, and it was good to see that it was directly on a bike path. We took a somewhat roundabout way to get back to the Alexandra Bridge but I hope to try it again on Tuesday, which is the Canada Day holiday, so that I can remember the landmarks.

When I got home I saw that I had 86 kms (53.5 miles) on the computer, with just under 1000 meters (3280 feet) of climbing. I was thinking of doing the extra 14 but the sky was really looking bad so instead I put the bike away, had a shower and got the barbecue going. In the end I just managed to cook some veggie hot dogs before the rain fell yet again. But the ride was excellent and I can say that I had fun.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

My Favourite Climbs: The Klausenpass

Profile of the Klausenpass: 25 kms of pain!
(graphic Tour de Suisse)

I love the challenge of climbing by bicycle and I was reminded recently, while following the Tour de Suisse, about one of my favourite climbs ever. On June 21st the TdS had an uphill time trial, and the hill of choice was the famous Klausenpass. The winner that day, a near-unknown, 22 year-old Czech named Roman Kreuziger, smashed the field, riding the 25 kms (15.53 miles) in 1 hour and 22 seconds, finishing 16 seconds ahead of Jose Rujano and taking the yellow jersey from Kim Kirchen, who blew up on the course, finishing three minutes back and winding up in 7th place in the GC.

The time trial course
(graphic Tour de Suisse)


The Klausenpass (elevation 1948 m/6391 feet ASL) is in the Swiss Alps and links the Cantons of Uri and Glarus. It is 24.6 kms long, with an average gradient of 6.1%, and a total ascent of 1497 m (4911 feet).


Monument to William Tell in Altdorf

There is a great story about the Klausenpass (courtesy of Wikipedia): According to legend, the border between Glarus and Uri was determined in 1315, following prolonged disputes. The two cantons agreed that at first cockcrow, two runners would start from Altdorf and Linthal, respectively, and the border would be where they met. The people of Glarus decided to feed their cock well, so that it might be sympathetic to their cause, while the people of Uri gave theirs nothing to eat at all. The result was that the Glarus cock overslept, while the Uri one, driven by hunger, crowed exceptionally early, and the runner of Uri crossed the entire Urnerboden before the Glarus runner even set out. On the pleading of the Glarus runner, the man of Uri agreed to let him carry him back uphill as far as he could, and the present border between Uri and Glarus is where the Glarus runner fell dead.

I actually could imagine this. In July 2002, as part of my first attempt to ride passes and be a Truly Heroic Cyclist, I took the train to nearby Erstfeld and on a beautiful summer day I headed to Altdorf. I took a break there as Altdorf is famous as the hometown of the mythical William Tell, Swiss National Hero and he of the famous crossbow and apple incident. I visited the charming museum in the charming town and the two people at the reception were genuinely delighted that a Canadian was there to see the exhibits. Or perhaps just anyone, since I was the only visitor there. I lingered for quite a while but I had a big climb ahead, so I got back on the Marinoni and soon was headed uphill. There was a sign directly in the village warning of what was to come. I guess they are red to warn you but to Truly Heroic Cyclists it is like waving a red flag to a bull. Onward and upward.

The first part of the road was very pleasant but soon I ran into a series of impressive hairpins and it was an odd sensation as I kept seeing the same view below but the houses and the waterfall just got smaller and smaller.

I caught up to a young Swiss couple, two cycletourists who were loaded up with all their gear. We stopped at a little bakery along the road for some tea and then I said goodbye and headed up on my own.

The road, which was built between 1893 and 1899, was in perfect condition and the vistas were amazing. At the time I had basically no experience in serious climbing except for what I had done on this trip to Switzerland and I found that I was needing all the gearing that my triple chainring would give me. Luckily I was not having to race but the climb did require a lot of concentration.

A cyclist, not me

I was twice passed by racing cyclists who seemed not to have any issues with the road but I kept on grinding away, stopping more frequently than normal to take pictures, but the scenery made this excuse believable. The Klausenpass is very popular with cyclists but there were also interesting cars that went by, including a Lamborghini, since the pass is also the site of a famous automobile time trial for antique cars. It was used for racing between 1922 and 1934, and then the time trial was revived in 1998 and every four years since. There are apparently 136 curves on the route, so it is a good test of handling and driver skill.

The heights, the cows...

I continued upwards, enjoying the fine weather and passed a little hotel at the top of the climb. A stop for a photo at the elevation sign but on this weekday there was nobody to photograph me with the bike so I had to be satisfied just with a picture of the Marinoni. The climb to the top was followed by a series of sharp hairpins as I descended the other side and soon came to a long, flat section of road, nicknamed "the Runway" and I swiftly passed happy Swiss cows wandering around, and the small mountain huts where Alpine cheeses are made in summer. The road was descending very gently and I was holding a steady 40 km/h (24.8 mph) with no effort at all.

I was a bit disappointed that the descent was not much compared to the labourious climb I had just done, but my lack of familiarity with the local topography certainly meant I was unprepared as I crossed a small ridge and saw the whole valley 2000 feet below my pedals. This was pretty scarey, but I got comfortable and began to really descend at blinding speed on the excellent road. Then I went around a corner and went straight into a tunnel that must have been four kms long, followed, somehow, by a large transport truck. Wearing sunglasses and unable to slow down, this was a lot more frightening than any climb! I made it to Linthal on the other side feeling pretty shakey. But a good kind of shakey, I guess.

Them's serious rocks!

I had climbed the Fluela Pass the day before, and that had been very difficult. The Klausenpass was seemingly much easier but it has to be one of the most spectacular rides I have ever done. If you find yourself in Canton Uri with some time to spare (at least 1'00"22 from the sound of it!) you will want to do this. There are a number of challenging climbs in the area and now that I can actually ride up more than one climb a day and enjoy it I plan to go back!

For more information about the Klausenpass, you can check out Climbbybike.com here.

And you can even take a look at what's happening on the Pass via webcam.

Early Morning Training: A Good Thing

It is hard to believe, but there is a 5:20 in the morning as well as the afternoon. I know this because I got up to go training, which is a sign of true dedication to the cause. Actually, I may have gotten up at 5:20, but by the time I pumped up the tires and got dressed in a half-asleep, floundering kind of way it was closer to 6 am.

Training in the morning, once you wake up, is actually very good. There is no traffic or pollution or wind and you can really focus on the training. It was not very onerous today: I had to do some jump practices, spinning up quickly five times per set with a one minute recover. I did four sets with 3.5 minutes between sets as well. Before I knew it, I had 30 kms under my tires and was starting to head for home.

There are a far more cyclists than you would expect before 6 o'clock in the morning in Ottawa, with lots of commuters riding in to work. I did notice a Time Trial Guy, with his disc wheel, practicing on the course for tonight's Open Time Trial; I will do the one next Thursday.

By the time I headed for home the traffic had definitely picked up a great deal. The weather was gorgeous, although the humidity was up to 92 percent. I felt very virtuous as I pulled into the driveway but in need of some brutally strong espresso.

After entering my mileage on BikeJournal, I discovered that I have now surpassed 1500th place, moving to 1486th, out of some 6800 participants. Not quite podium, but I had a very late start to the season and the weather has not helped much in the last month. Next stop: 1,000th!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

My Latest Review on Pezcyclingnews.com: Rouleur Magazine

On that most excellent of websites, www. pezyclingnews.com, you can find my latest review of cycling literature, covering Rapha's Rouleur magazine. This is a consistently beautiful and interesting publication. I doubt if you will find any magazine devoted to, say, soccer or baseball or any other pro sport with the same qualities of superior writing and evocative photography. Cycling is different: sure, other sports have their own history but nothing can compare to a sport where you can relive that history every time you climb one of those legendary passes--the same roads, the same mountains, the same feeling of going beyond normal effort.

A Great Cycling Evening: Time to Squeeze the Orange!

Heart rate profile for June 24th ride

Some days you just don't feel like doing anything. I had a nice ride home on the bicycle and then sat in the kitchen, looking at some new cycling books VeloPress sent me to review and scanning some of the several thousand slides from my time in Germany and Washington, DC that I have yet to scan, a really boring job. The weather was wonderful, and I had the sliding door open so Ms. Chipmunk ran and in and out for peanuts. It was very pleasant, and doing intervals was far from my thoughts. Besides, I thought, Tuesday evenings the bicycle club has its women's time trial and I did not want to get out there and interfere by riding the course.

Of course, the I opened up an e-mail from my Coach of Cruelty. I had sent him a long message a few days ago analyzing my times at the three tts I have done so far and trying to figure out where I could improve. He sent me a long e-mail, which was primarily philosophical, and was very supportive of my ideas. Of course, I realized that sitting at home was not going to improve my time on the course, so I got the bike out and rode as he suggested, a task that included four 90 second intervals at race-pace. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it--it is always the same: once I make the effort to get on the road I always enjoy it. It was wonderful, riding in the cool evening air, watching the groundhogs by the river, and seeing the sun begin to set. I felt at the end that I had accomplished something by sticking to my training. And for fun I pushed the Tarmac up past 50 km/h again.

My coach's comments included:

This is how a true TT man thinks: What was my speed last time? I want to match it or go faster!
This is also how the TT man thinks: Consistency is also a marker of improved fitness.
What made Lance amazing? Indurain? Anquetil? All these guys not only did fast TTs, but more importantly, consistent TTs. Every time. Like clockwork. They knew they could win the Tour de France, because they would have a good TT every time.
You noticed guys who are currently racing now, had much slower times in the past. They too at one time saw great gains in short amounts of time. Now their gains are not as much, time wise, but believe me, their gains are monumental physically. Think of it (and yourself!) as a orange: in the beginning when being squeezed for juice, there is lots, so with an easy squeeze, a lot pours out. As you get to the end of the squeezing the orange, there is less juice and you must squeeze harder to get even a little bit of juice. Those men are squeezing their hearts out for mere seconds at this point.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Boring Sunday Ride, Punctuated by Unwanted Thrills

The highest point on this ride is actually a landfill near the Experimental Farm!

On Sunday the weather was not very cooperative yet again, and my plan to do a group ride with the Ottawa Bicycle Club was foiled by the wretched pouring rain, which did not let up until the early afternoon. It got so late that I was debating even going for a ride but I thought of the three hours of training time that I would lose through laziness so I took out the bike and rode out around 3:30 pm.

My cunning plan was to take the bike path into Gatineau Park and enter a bit further north than usual in order to avoid the terrible road surface on Blvd. Alexandre-Tache, but after a good start I soon found myself hopelessly lost as none of the numerous intersecting bike paths in Hull had any directional signs. In addition, the paths all go through the route of what must be the ugliest semi-urban landscape in Canada and this depressed me so much that I fled back across the Ottawa River and rejoined the bike path on the Ontario side.

I decided to do a big loop around Ottawa using the bike path, which I have not done since I returned to the city last September. This was not the best idea as I had forgotten that the bike paths are actually "multi-use recreational paths," meaning that everyone who wants to can use them. The result is that it is pretty well impossible to ride at any speed since there are joggers, dogwalkers, people with baby carriages and mental defectives everywhere. One rollerblader took up both lanes and I had some trouble passing, even though I called "On your left!" quite loudly. I thought he must have been using headphones but when I passed (and he came so close I had to shout again) I saw that he was not. He gave me a look of such contempt I wanted to lean over and hit him. Unfortunately, most of the users of the path are similarly inconsiderate of other people and I think in future I prefer to take my chances with motorists.

In many places the bike path is pretty lumpy so between that and the risk of hitting people constantly I was pretty relieved to make it back home after 55 kms. The fact that I had had a vicious headwind for 3/4 of the trip did not improve my mood much, although at least it did not rain on me. Once I arrived home and got cleaned up, a massive thunderstorm did hit and today I will be commuting to work in pouring rain again.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The New York Times notices cycling, again! But maybe not in such a good way.

After the attention paid to the Christian Vande Velde article, the editors at the New York Times perhaps could not believe their good fortune, so for the Weekend Fashion & Style section, which has a lot more readers than the weekday version, they have turned to Lance Armstrong, with an article about the "2 Lances:" one being the Cancer Foundation Guy and the other being the Texas Playboy. Needless to say, CFG does not get as much attention as TP, who has recently become actress Kate Hudson's arm candy, apparently.

Has Big Tex moved from post-athletic celebrity to becoming the new Paris Hilton? As the only American cyclist who has brought near-universal notice, if not recognition, in the US to our obscure sport he retains our interest but he is reduced in stature by these kind of articles, as is the Times, which seems to be turning into People magazine.

Maybe we should think about Lance Armstrong the way we do about other sports figures: they were great in their day but they don't have much to contribute now. They have our money and should just go away so we can concentrate on Taylor Phinney, instead of a Rich Guy Who Dates A Lot of Similar-Looking Celebrity Blondes.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Heading for the hills

My favourite training loop

After several weeks of either boring flat farmland riding or sitting at home watching the rain come down, I was delighted when I woke up at 6 am this morning to see the weather was perfect for riding: sunny, no wind to speak of and just the right temperature. After a leisurely breakfast, including feeding the semi-domesticated female chipmunk who wanders into the living room looking for peanuts, I pumped up the tires on the Tarmac and headed to the Eastern Parkway to do some interval training, as suggested by the Coach of Cruelty.

In this I was thwarted as the road was closed for a women's 5 km running race, and it would not be open until 9:30 am. Rather than lose the time, I did a loop back along the bike path running alongside the Ottawa River to Rockcliffe Park, and then rode into the Byward Market and across the Alexandra Bridge to Hull. It was going to be a Gatineau Park day!

As I rode through the woods on the bike path at the entrance to the Park, a large rabbit hopped out onto the path. He did not dart off to the side when he saw me, but just kept on loping along the path in front of me. I had to shout several times to get him out of the way as I did not want to run him over. He did not seem very disturbed by my presence.

The same could not be said for the lady cycling near the Lemelin entrance to the Park. I was on the bikepath and heading north, while she wanted to get onto the path from the west, needing to do a 90 degree right turn. This seemed beyond her biking handling skills as when she tried to follow her male companion she got very slow, wobbled into the turn and then fell over as I pulled up to the stop sign. She seemed okay; perhaps she was learning how to use clipless pedals.

Heading north on the main road I was soon joined by another cyclist, a New Zealander named Mike. We chatted for a while and then he turned left towards the King Estate and Champlain Lookout while I kept going straight to go the longer way. I noticed a deer on the side of the road up ahead and was watching very carefully as they can be unpredictable and get in front of you but this one stood gawping at me until I was about three feet away. Then she suddenly realized that I was of the same species as Elmer Fudd and thus to be avoided, so she ran off back along the verge and into the woods.

When I passed Meech Lake Road and began to climb towards the Camp Fortune ski area I was amazed at how relaxed I felt, and how my speed was not falling very much on the climb. On the profile above you can see the climb at the 31 km mark. It is fairly steep and long but steady and I held a constant 13-15 km/h (8-9.5 mph) almost all the way to the top. Then I turned right to go towards Champlain Lookout and the New Zealander waved as he headed downhill in the other direction. I felt so good when I reached the Lookout that I just did the loop and kept riding instead of stopping as usual.

All this training has had some kind of result as I rocketed back downhill to retrace my course, hitting 64 km/h (nearly 40 mph) along the way. There were a lot of cyclists riding uphill and it was such a beautiful day that everyone looked happy and we all waved to each other.

I was in a bit of a hurry to get home since I had an 11 am appointment so I pushed it a bit all the way back, ending up with an average speed of 26.13 km/h (16.3 mph) which is pretty good as I climbed around 860 m (2800 feet) in only 70 kms (43.6 miles).

It was a bittersweet appointment. A few years ago, I was a very enthusiastic home brewer but after living in Germany and the US I realized that I preferred to spend my time drinking the beer instead of making it. So I put an ad on Craigslist and sold my four carboys, primary fermenter, 80x 1 litre bottles and all the tools and other stuff--enough to make something like 140 litres (37 gallons) of delicious, all-natural beer--to a nice gentleman from Quebec. I wish him much joy of it; at least I now have more space in the basement for yet more bike stuff.


Friday, 20 June 2008

Wim van Est: Video of the 1951 Tour de France

Fishing Wim van Est out of the ravine

Since lots of people were interested in the video of Frank Schleck going over the guardrail, I did some looking and found video of Wim van Est, falling into a ravine while wearing the Yellow Jersey in 1951. There was no guardrail there and the drop was huge. Wim, nicknamed "Iron William" for seemingly good reasons, had to be persuaded to go to the hospital, apparently, since he felt okay.

I cannot embed the video on my blog but it can be linked here. The video is supplied by ina, the French l'institut national de l'audiovisual. ina has a website and apparently has over 1,000 videos of the Tour de France for purchase and download, either on a 48 hour rental basis or permanently, for a reasonable cost. I was looking around on the site and watched Fausto Coppi at the 1952 Tour riding out of Bourg d'Oisans. Cool!

Time Trial: Getting A Bit More Serious

In spite of the wretched weather in Ottawa I have been trying hard to get in my training for today's 15 km (9.32 miles) Ottawa Bicycle Club time trial but I was annoyed when I looked out my office window this afternoon to see yet another massive rainstorm. I had gotten soaked on the ride home yesterday and did not want to repeat the experience, either on the commute or on the time trial course. But by the time I rode home things had improved weather-wise so I put the disc wheel on Dreadnought and the Garneau Rocket helmet on my head and headed to the start line.

A lot of people must have been put off by the weather since it was the smallest crowd I saw in any of my three OBC time trials. I signed in early and went off on the bike path to warm up. That went well enough but I could not get much speed, so I came back on the parallel road, which I discovered was filled with awful potholes. Dreadnought is pretty stiff as it is and the disc wheel makes it even more so but adding the lurch and shudder of this terrible road was a miserable experience. I had hoped to avoid it, but it looks like I will have to bring my car and fluid trainer in two weeks and warm up properly in the parking lot since the roads are quite unsuitable.

I slotted myself into the right spot at the starting line. An older gentleman positioned in front of me said: "So you are Number 19. You're the one I am going to have to stay ahead of!" I laughed and said that now I was under pressure to catch him. Which I was anyway, of course. Since I did a much better time trial last time compared to my first effort I was now starting further back, near the Serious People, and I was concerned about being reeled in myself.

This time I had a good start and quickly wound the bike up to 45 km/h (28 mph) from the launch. My HRM was acting a bit wonkey as it is wont to do and showed 225 bpm but once it settled down it was showing a more believable 174. I gently dialed back the speed and maintained a steady 40-42 km/h (24.8-26 mph), with a slight tailwind.

I was going quite well, I thought, and passed my 30 second man at around Km 4.5 (2.8 miles). As I approached the small climb near the turn I could see my speed fall off a bit but I shifted down and spun faster to keep my heart rate reasonable and my speed up.

The turn went very well and I quickly dropped down the little hill at 49.3 km/h (30.6 mph) and when Gravity was no longer my friend I carefully held the speed at 38-39 km/h (23.6-24.2 mph) into a very slight headwind. I could feel that I was beginning to tire a bit more and fooled around a bit with my gear selection to optimize my speed.

With the finish line in sight my right calf muscle decided to seriously cramp and I lost some time. Furthermore, I could not push up into the big gear for the dramatic finish I like so much but I still managed to get in a decent ride, taking off an estimated 40-45 seconds from my time of two weeks ago. This puts me ahead of the 71 year old in the Club but still not quite under 23 minutes. It was very intense and I could feel the strain this time, although I am pretty sure that I can go faster still, especially if I can warm up properly and avoid cramping. I reckon that my average speed en route was 38.9 km/h (24.17 mph), so I think the magic 40 (24.9) average is within reach. Incidentally, last week someone rode the course averaging 47.6 km/h (29.6 mph)!

I rode back home to a celebratory spaghetti dinner and now feel on the verge of collapsing. Luckily tomorrow's recovery ride will pose no challenges!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The New York Times notices cycling!

Christian Vande Velde training in Switzerland
(Franca Pedrazzetti for The New York Times_

Team Slipstream-Chipotle's (soon to be Garmin-Chipotle) Christian Vande Velde is the subject of a piece in today's New York Times and offers lots of good suggestions for aspiring cyclists as he discusses his training regime. He can generate 470 Watts for 10 minutes so he is probably worth listening to, even if the article appears in the "Fashion & Style" section of the newspaper. I guess the fashion element is that argylle pattern...

However, I am not so sure about the recipe for on-the-ride food: peanut butter, rice and Nutella. No beer mentioned anywhere.

N.B. In looking at the on-line NYT today, June 20, I see that the article about Christian Vande Velde is the most e-mailed article of the newspaper!

Frank Schleck at the Tour de Suisse: Ouch!

Amazingly, Frank Schleck came through this with nothing more than bruises. He was actually leading, with Markus Fothen joining him in the breakaway, and would have taken the yellow jersey of the Tour de Suisse. He finished 2'42" down, but at least he can ride again tomorrow.

Ride safely out there, everyone!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Love Thy Bike

"Mariposa TT" by Greg Curnoe
(Simon Fraser University)

In the most recent issue of the Canadian literary magazine, the Walrus, there is a very nice story by Bill Reynolds on cycling. Although it seems he and his friends have been particularly unlucky with respect to accidents, it is still a good read. You can find it here.

I was particularly touched by the story of Canadian artist Greg Curnoe, who lived in London, Ontario until fatally struck by a car while on a group ride in 1992. He loved bicycles, and made them the subject of his art. He was a great fan of Mariposa bicycles, hand-built by Mike Barry in Toronto until his retirement last year.

Robert Fulford, the cultural critic, wrote about Greg Curnoe's art for the National Post in 2001.

Ride safely, everyone.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

A Fast Ride to Kars

Today's ride profile

I decided to roll out early again this morning and make up for my limited weekend riding by going on the Ottawa Bicycle Club's Sunday ride. When I got to the Billings Bridge Plaza parking lot, there were, it seemed, a lot fewer people than usual although the weather was ideal. Perhaps a lot of people were still burned out from Rideau Lakes last weekend, or else they were getting ready to race the criterium on Preston Street this afternoon.

As usual we divided into subgroups and the offer today was a short ride to Manotick, a longer one (78 km) to Kars and a more serious distance of 151 kms to Merrickville. As tempted as I was by the Merrickville trip, this would bring me to 171 kms for the day, including my ride to Billings Bridge and back, or the equivalent of the first day of Rideau Lakes. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, so I decided to do the Kars trip.

I was fortunate in that a Touring 2.5 group got established under the leadership of Larry, and joining us were Alex and his father Jules, Frank, Mike and a few others who subsequently split off from the group. We set a surprisingly fast pace leaving the city, potholed streets and all, and soon came to Manotick. A left turn on Main Street and then we were in Kars' General Store.

Larry suggested that we add a few kilometers by going through Metcalfe and we all agreed. The trip back went very well as our paceline worked steadily, averaging around 32 km/h for 90 kms.

After returning to Billings Bridge Plaza, I decided to ride up to Preston Street to see where the crit would take place. Col. By Drive was closed to traffic, as usual on Sundays until 1 pm and I scooted up to Carleton University pretty fast, and walked the bike over the lock on the canal before following the bike path around Dow's Lake. Coming to Little Italy, Preston Street was blocked for cars and a lot of people were warming up for the race. I ran into Andrew Davy at the Prescott and wished him luck in his race before retracing my route to Dow's Lake and coming home by following the bike path along the canal. Total distance for the ride: 120 kms.

My plan is to do some more time trial training today but it looks like thunderstorms this afternoon. Iced tea until then!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

A Variation on Intervals and a Speed Surprise

Heart rate profile: you can see those intervals!

My Coach of Cruelty assigned me two big workouts today. Unfortunately, after a glorious week of excellent weather, the weekend has fallen apart somewhat with thunderstorms and threatening skies. So instead of an early start for Workout No. 1, there was a late start and Workout No. 1 And Only.

My task: Lactate reps. After warm-up do 2 sets of 4 x 40 seconds (20-second recoveries) with 5 minutes between sets. Do each at near-max effort. 100+ rpm. This sounds fairly easy but, in fact, near-max effort is still near-max effort. As you can see from the heart rate profile, I did in fact ace the workout (the first set of intervals being into a nasty headwind) but by the time I was done I was quite exhausted. My maximum heart rate was 169 bpm, but what really surprised me was my maximum speed, which came up as 52.2 km/h, on a bike with a compact crank. This bodes well for the next time trial--I think I really have to work on my cadence and get spinning more. Not that this hasn't been pointed out to me...

The Tin Donkey Restored: A Lucky Friday the 13th

It even has my name on it...

My first hyper-expensive bike (or so it seemed to me at the time) was my magnificent custom-built 1998 Marinoni Ciclo sport-touring bike. This is the Original Tin Donkey and I have written on my blog extensively about the trips I undertook on my British Racing Green bicycle. It was introduced to the blog here and in addition to riding throughout Germany, doing the Tour of Flanders, cycling in Sicily and Mallorca and along the Camino de Santiago, I have done the Swiss Alps, the 11 City Tour of East Friesland in the Netherlands and the legendary Stelvio climb.

At the very end of March I took the bicycle, which was showing some wear and tear from around 25,000 kms of touring, back to the factory to be refinished. It was a bit strange carrying the dented, scratched and stripped frame into the place of its birth, but I knew it would be well taken care of.

A few weeks later, the frame was sent back to me by truck. The people at Marinoni had taken out the headset and removed the fork, repaired the dent in the top tube, repainted the bicycle in close-to-original colours (the BRG is a little bluer than the 1998 version was), put on new Columbus decals and Marinoni lettering, added a headtube badge (previously there had just been a decal), and then reinstalled the headset and fork. It was carefully packed up and shipped back and my total bill was just over C$ 200, which seems like an excellent value to me.

In the meantime I had painstakingly polished all the bright Campagnolo parts, and even used rubbing alcohol on the rims to get out the old brake pad rubber and clean the metal. I reassembled most of the bicycle, taking great pains not to risk scratching the paint, and then I walked it over to Full Cycle, my local bike shop, for reinstallation of the bottom bracket and crankset, new cabling and a new chain. The work was done ahead of schedule and when I picked it up today I was delighted.

Once home, I installed the classic Cinelli white cork tape (nothing else will do!) and set up the Garmin GPS305, which can be used for three different bicycles. I had bought an extra cadence sensor on E-Bay so now both the Tarmac and the Marinoni are set up with the GPS.

After taking the photos you see here, I got on the bike and did a short 12 km ride to see if everything was working. I had to stop and raise the seatpost a bit but otherwise the shakedown ride was great. I love the smooth, comfortable ride of this bicycle. It is nowhere near as responsive as the Tarmac but equally a pleasure to ride. The Campy parts, while not the top end, are really good and still work almost as well as when they were new. The polished parts, particularly the chainrings, look dazzling.

I want to do some multi-day tours with the Marinoni. It has earned the right to do some relaxing miles in the years ahead. So have I, I suppose. And next year I will bring it back to Cirque du Cyclisme, which I passed up this year for the Rideau Lakes Tour and I will be the envy of the crowds.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

The Business Press Discovers Cycling: Part 2

Today one of Canada's leading newspapers, the Globe & Mail, has a piece on Canadian bicycle manufacturer Cervelo, with the story being the cover story in the Report on Business magazine. It is an amazing success, with sales growing 40 to 70 percent annually. Check out the article here.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

New Intervals: passing the magic 50 km/h

Up at 5:30 this morning and out on the Dreadnaught onto the Eastern Parkway to do some lactate threshold intervals. This consisted of a 25 minute warm-up, followed by alternating 2 minute runs at heart rates of 148 bpms and then 162 bpms, while trying to keep up a cadence of 85-100 rpm. The cadence part was the hardest to manage, although I could feel those high-end sections after a while.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous, with almost no humidity and temperatures around 22C when I left the house. I passed lots of commuters riding in to work. The heart rate monitor worked perfectly today and I felt really in tune with the ride. There was very little wind and when I did a brief sprint to bring my HR up to the required level, I looked down to see that I was riding at nearly 51 km/h. The workout was not as painful as the other interval training I have done, although it really did go on for a full 20 minutes.

After a gentler half hour spent recovering, I rolled home and had a delicious smoothie for breakfast, followed by a most excellent in-the-cycling-tradition double espresso. Then it was off to work on the next bicycle and the perfect day so far was made even better when I figured out that the annoying creaking sound when riding BlackAdder came from the right pedal; a shot of ProLink and we were silent and swift again.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour 2008: A Weekend of Centuries

There, and back again...

From its origins in 1972 when 75 riders took part, the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, put on by the Ottawa Bicycle Club, has become a big event, with more than 1200 people registered to do the weekend trip from Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario and back. I rode this 354 km (220 miles) route twice before, a few years ago: the first time was to mark my 40th birthday and to prove I wasn’t completely fallen apart; to prove it was no fluke, I did it again two years later, both times on my old lugged steel Bianchi.

Since returning to Ottawa and rejoining the OBC, I was looking forward to doing the ride again but with the Tarmac and at more serious speeds. I suggested that my friends the Badger and Dr. Chef come up from Washington, DC to enjoy some Canadian hospitality and they accepted with alacrity. Unfortunately, the good Doctor’s work scheduled had him flying in from Denver on Friday morning to Washington-Dulles and joining the Badger in a rental car for the 11 hour trip up north. They arrived in Ottawa at around 11:30 pm and promptly collapsed.

Nearly ready to go

But no rest for the wicked as we were up at 5:30 am for a big breakfast and then off to Carleton University. The registration process went smoothly except that somehow the Badger was shown as riding the short 100 km ride from Perth. He was fixed up with a temporary ride number and after we left our bags we joined the long line of cyclists heading out of the parking lot and along Colonel By Drive. The time was 7:49 am. The weather forecast was for a very hot weekend but it was very comfortable as we rolled out, soon sitting behind a tandem as we went westwards out of Ottawa towards Kanata.

The tandem didn’t last long and we were waved through but were able to continue with a small group. At Km 22 there loud explosion and Dr. Chef was probably woken out of jet-lagged doziness as his front tire blew up. When we examined the wreckage it was clear that he was not going anywhere further on that tire. I turned around and headed back up the road to where the support van had been spotted and a short time later Mike the Mechanic was changing the tire for us. There was no charge for the tire, which had been donated, and this was nice; we were soon back on our way again.

The route heads westwards towards Ashton on fairly flat country roads. In Ashton itself the food/water stop really didn’t have anything, although we refilled our water bottles in the public restroom. There was a stand selling snacks and water but we pushed onwards. We found a group to ride with and Dr. Chef soon made friends with some Montrealers. We were rolling quite well, although Dr. Chef was pretty tentative about the gravel section just outside of Perth, but we got through that with no issue. Soon we found ourselves in Perth, at Last Duel Park, slightly past the halfway mark of the ride.

One of the Montrealers was not feeling well and he decided to turn back, with the idea of driving from Ottawa to Kingston and staying over. So we became a small group: the three of us and two charming Quebecoises, Michelle and Camille. Michelle’s English was a bit hesitant but I enjoyed trying out my French with her. She had a very nice Cervelo and looked like a strong rider, although she told me that she had only been riding seriously for four years. Her sister, Camille, was the wife of the Montrealer who was going to meet up with everyone in Kingston.

The Sprocketboy at the Park
(photo by Dr. Chef)


Last Duel Park, on the Tay River, was the location of–surprise–the last fatal duel, which was fought in June 1833 between two law students. The survivor was tried for murder in Brockville two months later and so ably defended himself that he was not convicted and went on to a distinguished legal career. The other student is buried in the cemetery adjoining the park.

Dr. Chef and the Badger: "Three Stooges" enthusiasts

As a food and drink stop, Perth also did not have a great deal. The local service club made sandwiches and was selling them to the cyclists, along with fruit and soft drinks. Compared to the US and Germany, where all the food along the way is included in the registration fees, this seems a bit chintzy. While it is okay for local communities to earn something en route, it would just be a lot more convenient to up the price of registration a little and give away the food.

Colorado fashion victims
(photo by Dr. Chef)


After leaving Perth, we soon found out just how hard the day would be as we ran full force into a strong headwind from the southwest and the temperatures began to climb up to 33C (91F). The road ran straight and shadeless and the Badger, Dr. Chef and I took turns leading our little group. Camille began to flag a bit so we slowed down a bit which was a good thing to do as there was still a long road ahead and our intent had been to do the first day at an easier pace.

Men of Iron

We came into a series of rolling hills and were gratified with the sight of some pretty little lakes. I was up near the head of the pack when I saw the sign for Westport, which meant it was time to go into the big gear and get ready to descend the only hill of note on the trip. I accelerated quickly, tucked down and went into the first curve, only to get stuck behind a twit on a Colnago who started braking on what was a very easy descent. I crossed over the yellow line and pulled around him, but my momentum had been interrupted and I probably did not get much over 65 km/h, to my irritation. We crossed over the little bridge and found ourselves in the summer destination of Westport.

A lake on the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour
(photo by Dr. Chef)


For some reason everyone pulled into a large gas station and bought water and snacks rather than going 1 km down the road to the official food stop. We pulled in too and everyone bought a lot of water, to put in the bottles or pour on their heads. Michelle poured some water down Dr. Chef’s back, and mine as well. The shock was actually refreshing but everything dried out again in just a few minutes, between the heat and the wind.

Back on the road we came to what is probably the nicest section of
the ride, with more rolling hills and lakes. Some of the cyclists pulled off and went for a swim at some of the lakes, but we continued on. It was getting very hot and we were all getting a bit tired. At one brief rest by the side of the road, Dr. Chef invigorated Michelle with a nice foot massage ("You can trust me! I'm from the FDA!") and, not to play favourites, did the same for me as I was suffering from a bad hot spot in the centre of each foot. On we went: a few hills, then under Highway 401 and we were in Kingston, where we experienced every red light in town. Kingston having only around 170,000 inhabitants, we were pretty sure all the stoplights were in fact on our street. We rolled up to Queen’s University and Day 1 was over.

Registering as early as we did (Nos. 54-56), we had rooms right near the registration tables in the Brockinghouse Dormitory. We picked up our bags and hauled the bikes up one flight of stairs to our room. The building looked nice on the outside, but was pretty grim inside although the room was clean and had fresh towels. I felt a bit queasy, probably from the heat, but started to recover after a shower and some more water.

Dr. Chef was anxious to get some beer, so we went for a walk along Lake Ontario and then to a small pub, where we enjoyed a pitcher of wonderful Creemore Springs Lager, along with breaded zucchini, mozzarella sticks and onion rings, something that people who have spent 7 hours on a bicycle can really enjoy with no detrimental effects. We watched the Belmont Stakes and Dr. Chef was very disappointed that Big Brown, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, just didn’t have anything left for the Triple Crown.

We walked back to Queen’s and joined the masses for dinner. This involved some serious lining-up but the food, while plain and institutional, was actually quite tasty. Dr. Chef got halfway through his pasta and then apperaed to fall asleep sitting up with his eyes open but was revived as we finished off with some ice cream. I was in bed and sound asleep by 9:30 pm. Although the room was not air-conditioned, it was quite bearable and very quiet.

In my Pink Lemonade Fat Cyclist jersey
(photo by Dr. Chef)


Up again at 6 am, we quickly got ready and headed back for breakfast. Everyone had two plates–waffles with syrup, eggs, croissants, potatoes–and we left our bags for transport and got ready to leave. My rear tire was a little low (which did not surprise me as the tubeless tires leak out a lot of air overnight) but I could not find a pump anywhere. I did spot three guys with a floor pump but when I approached them they told me to get lost, although not so politely. Since I was not being unpleasant about it, I was irritated by their lack of civility although I supposed a lot of people had bothered them. The organizers apparently had at least one pump available but it wasn’t very obvious to me where it was.

The Badger calls for reinforcements (photo by Dr. Chef)

It was quite overcast, and the forecast called for thunderstorms throughout the day. To the west we could see very dark clouds. We rolled out through the empty streets of Kingston at 7:10 am, a bit later than we had planned, but after leaving the city we managed to join up with a good group of about eight riders from Sudbury, Ontario. They kept a reasonable pace and welcomed us in. We ran a double paceline, with rotation off to the sides, and with a slight tailwind made excellent time to Westport, where we had a short break. Then it was up the hill, where I got to push myself a bit and get my heartrate up. We soon settled down into our group, occasionally joined by others who usually dropped away. Before we knew it, we were in Perth again and it was not even 11 am.

This time we invested in some $3 sandwiches and some soft drinks. The lady who sold us the Cokes mentioned that today was World Nude Cycling Day, and the Badger asked how it was. When she went on to say that the ladies at the stand had been wondering about the cyclists. At this point, Dr. Chef started to unzip his jersey for her but was stopped by our expressions of sheer horror.

Hammerheads enjoying Freezee Pops (via Dr. Chef)

Back on the bikes, I led out with Paul, one of the Sudbury group’s hammerheads. Dr. Chef had to go back for a cleat cover but quickly rejoined the group as we pedalled slowly, then we quickened the pace. The only incident, a bottle lost on the gravel road which I immediately ran over, was no big deal and we smoothly continued towards Ashton, holding a steady 30-32 km/h and working the paceline. Since we were an odd number we had the chance to chat with different people beside us, including Mario, who took some of the group to Italy, and Peter, who is a teacher. There was also Don, Jim, Wayne and Alex and the aforementioned Paul: we really enjoyed each other’s company and worked very well. Ashton came up quickly too.

Freezee Pop Effects (photo by Dr. Chef)

We found a slightly shady spot to rest for a bit, and in a moment of brilliant inspiration Dr. Chef bought us four Freezee Pops to enjoy. Mine was deep purple and the Badger got a red one. I think I last had one in Grade 7 or something, but it coloured our tongues as grotesquely now as it had then.

From Ashton it was a fast ride back to Ottawa, although when we came up to stoplights and had to wait the heat was oppressive. We came into Carleton University around 3:30 pm, making the trip back almost ninety minutes faster than the outward bound leg. I did not stop my computer so it was recorded as one trip, but I think that we averaged over 30 km/h on the way back.

Team Sudbury and Friends at the finish (photo by Dr. Chef)

We picked up our certificates to show that we had completed the Classic ride. Time to celebrate with a beer and we met up with our new Sudbury friends and had a cold (albeit not very good) brew before packing up and heading home for good beer (the last of my Creemore Springs UrBock) and some barbecue. I felt great, and we all agreed that the return trip had been a particularly good experience.

After a good night’s sleep, Dr. Chef and the Badger got in the RAV4 and headed south, while I decided to panic since I could not find my wallet, thinking that I had left it on the grass when we had our beer at Carleton. I cancelled my credit card at the bank this morning and sent an e-mail to the club but in the middle of the afternoon I suddenly remembered that I had put my wallet on a shelf in the garage when I had moved two bikes before I moved the car in and, sure enough, it was there when I got home. Just another Stupidity Attack™.

The elevation profile for the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour

I enjoyed the ride very much, although Dr. Chef noted we saw a lot fewer riders on Saturday than on Sunday, suggesting that the virulent headwind had been a bit too much from some cyclists. We hope that we can persuade the Sudbury bunch to ride with us in Virginia at some point. My training over the winter seems to have yielded real results as I felt very strong, especially on the second day, and the Tarmac continues to impress as a fast, long-distance bicycle. But this was my third RLCT (the first one without rain!) and I probably will not need to do it again as fresh horizons beckon. There are several routes on offer and perhaps one weekend I will try to do another ride to Kingston by different roads. All I need nine or ten strong guys to draft...

Click on the map for a view of the entire region

Friday, 6 June 2008

Time Trial Boy Returns!

After my rather poor showing at the Ottawa Bicycle Club's 15 Km (9.32 miles) Thursday time trial a few weeks ago, I was determined to do better. Taking Dreadnought, my tt bike, instead of the old steel Bianchi was probably a good idea. I worked a bit more on my warm-up and felt more confident, in spite of all the guys with their super-fast equipment. Around 70 people showed up to ride the course this week.

I had a bit of a fumble at the start. Usually the starter gives a little push, but this one simply let go and I had some trouble getting rolling and staying on the road. I corrected things pretty quickly and got down to business, riding into a 16 km/h headwind dead on. My initial heartrate of 182 dropped to a more reasonable 165 and I felt good.

Since my time trial result was so dismal last time, I was started as No. 10 in the field, up with the newbies. By the time I had reached the turnaround, which I executed with aplomb this time, I had passed most of the people ahead of me. The hoped-for tailwind was actually not very strong, coming mainly from the side, but I accelerated up to a nice steady 40-42 km/h and was able to hold that for a good while back. I began to tire a bit at the 13.5 km mark, but seeing the finish line I cranked it up for a last time and sailed through at 46 km/h. I think my time was closer to 24:00 this time, a big improvement from the 26:30 on the Bianchi, in spite of the wind. Next time I will go full-aero, with the helmet and disc wheel, and see how it goes. I was pleased not to have any cramping so I think my warm-up was a big improvement as well.

Official results are in: my time was 23:52, with an average speed of 37.709 km/h. This put me 13/17 in my age class but with a lot of people in the 23-24 minute slot I expect to jump up a lot of places if I can gain a little time. This is real progress for me since I did not feel overextended at all. By the way, the fastest rider in my group tied the age group class record of 19:56, so I have some way to go! We will see two weeks from now when I try again. And I actually passed every person who started ahead of me!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A Herd of Tin Donkeys: Gitane Gran Sport DeLuxe

Gitane USA Catalogue, 1970

While reading a book of cycling poetry recently–yes, there is such a thing and I will review it on these pages soon–I came across an excellent poem by a woman about her childhood and how she learned to ride a bike. It sounded idyllic, with her father giving her a push and running alongside as she learned to balance and then ride off into the sunshine. But the poem went on to say that it was also completely untrue because her father was a stressed-out creep who just wanted to drink heavily when he came from work and he never helped her learn to ride a bike. But she would have liked the fantasy story to be the true one.

This image of a father helping a child learn to ride and giving that gentle push towards adventure and excitement and independence is a very powerful one. The poem made me reflect on my first attempts to ride a bicycle. I had a small child’s bicycle, much used and thickly painted a deep red, with enormously wide balloon tires. I do not recall ever having to learn to balance since the balloon tires were so wide it did not tip over: imagine something like rubber steam roller wheels. I outgrew this and my father found another used bicycle but it was too big so the jovial Mr. Miller, our friendly neighbour who was an ace welder, cut one end of the top tube, lowered it down and rewelded it so that I could reach the saddle. It was painted dark blue (again, a respray) and I suspect it may have been an old CCM bike but there were no markings on it. It had caliper brakes, which was a bit unusual, and was single speed.

I recall trying to ride it alone on our dead-end and very quiet street and sort-of-but-not-quite falling off several times when suddenly the balance thing worked and I was riding. It was astonishing to me, this feeling of speed and smoothness and soaring. I rode to the end of the street and back and probably annoyed Mrs. Maloney, who lived next door and was talking to some people in her driveway, as I called her each time I went by. It was exhilarating but I cannot recall my father anywhere in the picture. I don’t think it occurred to me that there was any reason not to learn by myself but he certainly did not suggest it either.

Time passed and the blue bike went to Mr. Miller’s daughter when I was in the 6th Grade and I spent my hard-earned money (I had no allowance and I cannot really recall how I earned this $35) on a used CCM Mk II bike equipped with a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed transmission and a cable-operated speedometer. The seat was not in the best shape but had a nice silver and red padded cover; the rest of the bike was in pretty good condition but must have been ancient as one of my friends had a CCM Mk VII and that was already used too. The bike was on the heavy side but it was easy to look after as nothing ever went wrong with the gears.

My CCM was nice compared to the anonymous blue bike (it even had red-and-white braided cable housings on the brake cables!) but it was now the early 1970s and the first mass-market 10 speed bicycles were coming on the market. Friends–first James and then Karl–got these and I recall how when I rode James’ yellow 10 speed that the feeling of exhilaration riding a bike came back all over again. In 1972 we had a holiday on Nantucket Island and I rented a Peugeot UO-8 10 speed and rode around the island, determined to get one of these fast, responsive, good-looking bikes for myself.

The following summer I worked for my father in the construction business, doing the usual mindless work that is suitable for growing teenagers, like backfilling foundations with a shovel or nailing plywood flooring or stapling insulation between joists. My goal was to save enough to afford a brand-new 10 speed of my own and by July I had enough.

I had made several pilgrimages to Oak-Queen Mall, directly across Cross Avenue from my father’s shop, to Oakville Cycle & Sports where the Humphreys brothers featured the latest bikes from Raleigh and Gitane. I had selected a Gitane, since French bicycles were more exotic somehow, and because the one in the store was a beautiful peacock blue with chrome fenders. I did not have any knowledge whatsoever of what I was looking at and had never heard the name Campagnolo in my life. James' bike was pretty non-thoroughbred so he wouldn't have been much help in the advice department either and Karl, who also bough at Oak-Queen, was equally a neophyte.

My father was appalled by the whole idea. He thought it was a waste of money and ended the discussion by declaring: “Don’t expect me to fix it when it breaks.” I was a bit surprised since I had always been impressed by his stories of cycling in Germany at the end of World War II when he was making his way cross-country. He used to tell me how he would take his bike apart to clean it and how he would ride great distances and it all sounded brave and wonderful to me.

But it was my money and the vision of the blue bike was more powerful than any discouragement. On July 27th, 1973 I went back to the store and bought my bicycle, a Gitane Gran Sport DeLuxe. It cost $149.95, with sales tax of $10.48. To this was added a carrier rack for $5.25, a water bottle and cage for $2.50, a set of toe clips for the pedals for another $2.50 and a pant clip for 59 cents, bringing my grand total to $172.04 with tax. I still have the receipt. I could have had a Raleigh Grand Prix for $120, so I felt I was definitely going upmarket.

Everything was installed and two days later I picked up the bike and rode home. I got about a block before the rear wheel shifted and jammed against the chainstay. I walked it back and this time the staff tightened the rear quick release properly. I had a 9 km ride ahead of me and it went without a hitch: I was the proud owner of a truly beautiful bike. My father said he would ride the CCM but he never actually did except once to the end of the street, so I ended up putting an advertisement for it in a local shopping newspaper. I clearly priced it far too low at $35, the price I had originally paid, as I think I received forty phone calls. The first person to see it bought it without even riding it.

The Gitane introduced me to the real joys of cycling, of heading off into the countryside for a full day of roving around. My friend Karl and I would go on day trips to far-away exotic places like Georgetown or Milton or Waterdown, where the famous Snake Road offered a daring, high-speed descent. We rode up to Mountsberg in Campbellville and all around then-rural Oakville and Burlington, north of Highway 5–now all built-up with boring housing developments.

The history of Gitane goes back to a farm equipment machine shop in Machecoul, just outside of Nantes, on the Loire River in France in 1925. The shop made bike parts as well and eventually complete bikes, with the first use of the Gitane brand name in 1930 for assembled bikes and in 1940 for ones made in-house. The company, renamed Cycles Gitane in 1952, remained fairly small but began to expand, adding motorcycles to the line and soon sponsoring pro bicycle racers. The big breakthrough for the company came in 1957, when legendary cyclist Jacques Anquetil won the French National Championship on a Gitane, and the brand became prominent in the next decade.

For some reason, the company name was again changed, to Micmo S.A., in 1960. By 1972 it was France’s largest exporter of bicycles, shipping over 185,000 bikes that year. Most of these went to the United States, which was experiencing the “bike boom” that brought in other famous French brands, including Peugeot and Motobecane. The popularity of these lightweight bicycles, outfitted with French components, made Micmo an attractive target for Renault, which first purchased a controlling interest in 1974 and full ownership in 1976. The Renault-Gitane racing team was a powerhouse in racing, with Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon, Marc Madiot and the team’s American revelation, Greg Lemond, but the bike boom ended and hard times came and Renault divested itself of Micmo-Gitane by 1985. The brand still exists but is not sold in North America anymore.

My Gitane was not the high-end Tour de France model but an entry-level bicycle with stamped dropouts and a fake chrome fork crown and, I think straight-gauge steel tubing. It had Simplex shifters and derailleurs, a Pivo stem and a kick stand, the first thing to go. The Mafac “Racer” centre-pull brakes were fairly effective but were notorious for their screeching. The brake levers had the infamous “safety levers” that let you brake from the flat section of the handlebars but at reduced effectiveness.

Over the years parts were replaced: the Simplex shifters failed pretty quickly and were replaced by excellent SunTour ones, and eventually SunTour derailleurs as well. In 1987 I took the bike to China on my first Foreign Service posting and the locals were astonished by this high-tech, exotic-looking French bike. I enjoyed riding it around Beijing, but before my posting to Hong Kong I sold it to a colleague since I knew I would not be doing any riding in HK.

After leaving Hong Kong and returning to Ottawa in 1991, I immediately bought a new Bianchi racing bicycle. But this was too nice (and impractical) to ride to work and I ended up buying the Gitane back from my colleague, who had also returned to Ottawa. I had to find a way to support the rack–my friend had lost the fittings–but I cobbled some attachments together with the help of the local bike shop. I replaced the brake levers with a nice set of Shimano 600 ones I found in the bargain bin at a big bike shop. Compared to my Bianchi it was heavy but it worked well enough and I rode it to the office until I left for Germany in 1998.

For the last ten years the Gitane gathered dust at my house in Ottawa, in the basement along with my ridiculous Yongjiu black one-speed. In the meantime my stable of Tin Donkeys in Germany and Washington expanded as the Bianchi was joined by the Marinoni, then the Lemond Maillot Jaune, the time trial bike, the cross bike and finally the Specialized Tarmac.

On my return to Ottawa I realized that I had a lot of bikes and although the general rule is that you cannot ever have too many bikes I realized that I was reaching the limit. I also realized that it was unlikely I would ever ride the Gitane again as BlackAdder, the cross bike, had replaced it as my commuter. So I pumped up the tires, which were still pretty good, cleaned it up and put an ad on Craig’s List. I rode it around the block a few times and was impressed with how beautifully the SunTour derailleurs shifted–no indexing, but smooth as silk and very positive. It would have been stupid to turn it into a fixed gear bike, as I was idly considering at one point. The brakes still shriek, though.

Tonight the new owner, a pleasant young man named Jason who was probably no older than the bike, came for it. We hemmed and hawed over the price and although in the end I got enough to buy a bargain pair of bib shorts, I am satisfied it is going to a good home. This is only the fourth bike I have ever sold, including the Dawes I bought in London in 1974 and used to tour Europe before selling it in Vienna at the end of the summer, and while I have some seller’s remorse I also realize that I still have a collection of superb bikes. And I still can only ride one of them at a time.

Les Humphrey sold the shop a few years after my big purchase and moved to the Ottawa area, where he is a fixture in our local cycling club to this day although I have not looked him up. I still have a collection of cycling articles he wrote for the Hamilton Spectator from 1973/4.

So, bon voyage Gitane, with memories of Southern Ontario and Tienanmen Square in your frame! As Jason took it to his car, I wondered what my father would have thought about my judgment and mechanical ability as the bicycle he had no confidence in rolled down the driveway, still looking good, nearly 35 years after I bought it.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Saturday Ride: home again fast...

The day began with pouring rain and thunderstorms and continued into the afternoon. I spent my time usefully, cleaning bike parts and reassembling the Marinoni, fresh from its visit to the factory for refinishing. The bike shop around the corner will do the final work for me around June 13th, as I discovered when I walked over there in blazing sunshine and some humidity.

Returning home, I saddled up the Tarmac and decided to ride the Ottawa bicycle path loop, which I have not done since my return to Ottawa in September. Things started out well with a cruise through Rockcliffe Park and then I had smooth sailing on the path but by the time I reached Hog's Back it was clear that the thunderstorms were on their way back. I turned around and hustled home, only getting moderately wet. Since I had spent two hours cleaning up the Tarmac on Monday I was happy I did not have to do it again. 30 kms: better than nothing.